Craftsmen Definitions 101: Who Does What? Part 1

Melting Gold

Goldsmith Pouring Melted Gold into an Ingot

Goldsmith or silversmith? Jeweller? Lapidary or gemologist?
Knowing who you’re dealing with is important in the world of jewelry.

Smith Smithy Smite

Smith may be the most common name in the English language, suggesting that, at one time, there must have been a lot of smithing going on somewhere in Ye Olde Englande. A ‘smith’ is someone who works with metal (with the possible exception of a wordsmith). As a verb, it means to work with metal by hammering or forging. The word “smith” was derived from the German and Dutch words (Schmied and smid, respectively), themselves derived from the word “to smite” which is to hit or to strike.

Goldsmith v Silversmith: Size Does Matter

Goldsmith Hammers

Goldsmith Hammers

As it turns out,  it isn’t how you use your tools – it is the size of them, after all.

The difference between a goldsmith and a silversmith is not the material they work with. A goldsmith can do his job in silver and a silversmith his job in gold.  The difference is in the size of the objects they normally make and the size of the tools they use.  Typically, a goldsmith uses the smallest hammers, everything from tiny riveting hammers with heads less than 1 ½ inches (3.8 cm) long to hammers with heads measuring 3 ½ inches (8.9 cm). Silversmith hammers usually start around 2 ¾ inches (7 cm) and up.

Goldmiths are skilled craftsmen that take precious metal and saw, pull, bend, roll it with traditional tools. They heat or anneal the metal to soften it and make it more malleable.  They can melt the metal back to a nugget and reuse to make beautiful objets d’art.

They assemble the pieces they have sawed and filed together with heat and gold solder.  Finally, filing and polishing results in a small object, often jewellery. A goldsmith has to understand a designer’s drawing and work out the best technique and method to execute. The tools are often made by goldsmiths for their own use. The style and purpose of these tools have not changed in hundreds of years.  Those tools include hammers, pliers, anvils and chisels.  Goldsmiths specialise in certain areas in the fields.  Some specialise in engraving, stone setting or working with platinum.

In antiquity, they were also bankers. In the modern era, goldsmiths have drills and even laser welders to create beautiful jewellery, but if a bench jeweller cannot use a hammer to make their jewellery, they cannot call themselves a goldsmith.

Mihwa Joo - Korea: Winner of Hollowware Award at 15th Silver Triennial, Sterling Silver, 215x130mm

Mihwa Joo – Korea: Winner of Hollowware Award at 15th Silver Triennial, Sterling Silver, 215x130mm

Silversmiths are skilled craftsmen that make large scale objects such as cutlery, candlesticks or vases.  The skills and techniques are similar to a goldsmith but the objects made by silversmiths are much larger.  The tools, anvils, heating devices and even workshop stations used to form the silver or any metal for that matter are significantly larger – a completely different operation.

Lapping up gemstones

Dede at her microscope

Dede at her microscope

When it comes to gems, knowledgeable buyers are one thing, skilled craftsmen something else.  Gemologists are trained to identify and grade gemstones.  Often gemologists work directly with the mines and are diamond dealers or coloured stone dealers who sell gemstones to goldsmiths or work in the manufacturing field. They may also be sorters, who take a collection of rough gems and conduct the initial sorting, separating the wheat from the chaff.

Rough and Polished Diamonds

Rough and Polished Diamonds

After that, the Lapidaries take over.  They are craftsmen who cut the rough and transform it into gemstones. Lapidaries require gemology knowledge and it takes many years to master the skill and precision needed to take a gemstone from its rough state to a beautiful gem which has brilliance and fire.  These stones will have nearly perfect angles.   Quality rough is very expensive and fine cutting can add tremendous value to the finished stone.  

Fantasy cut ametrine by Bernd Munsteiner

Artisan lapidary, Bernd Munsteiner has been cutting gems into shapes known as fantasy cuts since the 1960s.  Each stone is one-of-a-kind.  Bi-colour stones like ametrine are stunning when carved by a master.

Part Two of Craftsmen Definitions will talk about jewellery designers and their role in the industry.

Dede Marconato Signature

Dede at the Jewellery Bench

Dede at the Jewellery Bench

Dede Marconato is a goldsmith and works at her studio bench in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.  Dede is also a Graduate Gemologist from the prestigious Gemological Institute of America.

If you are interested in learning more information about gemstones or designing a custom piece, please contact her at

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